Science & Education

, Volume 6, Issue 5, pp 511–527 | Cite as

The Development of the Concept of Work: A Case where History Can Inform Pedagogy

  • Kevin C De Berg


An historical analysis of the work concept with particular emphasis given to the contributions of John Smeaton and Daniel Bernouilli is provided with a view to enlightening or resolving current difficulties experienced in the teaching and learning of the concept of work and its relationship to kinetic and potential energies. An approach which emphasises the work done by both applied and resisting forces and which gives some technological significance to the (force x distance) definition of work is recommended.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Arons, A.B.: 1990, A Guide To Introductory Physics Teaching, John Wiley, New York.Google Scholar
  2. Atkins, P.W.: 1994, Physical Chemistry — 5th edition, Oxford University Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
  3. Barrow, G. M.: 1988, 'Thermodynamics Should Be Built on Energy-Not on Heat and Work', Journal of Chemical Education 65, 122-125.Google Scholar
  4. Bernouilli, D.: 1738, Hydrodynamics, Johann Reinhold Dulsecker, Strassburg. Translated by T. Carmody and H. Kobus, Dover, New York, 1968.Google Scholar
  5. Canagaratna, S.G.: 1978, 'Critique of the Treatment of Work', American Journal of Physics 46, 1241-1244.Google Scholar
  6. Cardwell, D.S.L.: 1967, 'Some Factors in the Early Development of the Concepts of Power, Work and Energy', The British Journal for the History of Science 3, 209-224.Google Scholar
  7. Carr, M. & Kirkwood, V.: 1988, 'Teaching and Learning about Energy in New Zealand Secondary School Junior Science Classrooms', Physics Education 23, 86-91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. de Berg, K.C.: 1992, 'Students' Thinking in Relation to Pressure-Volume Changes of a Fixed Amount of Air: The Semiquantitative Context', International Journal of Science Education 14, 295-303.Google Scholar
  9. Driver, R. & Warrington, L.: 1985, 'Students' Use of the Principle of Energy Conservation in Problem Situations', Physics Education 20, 171-176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Duit, R.: 1981, 'Understanding Energy as a Conserved Quantity — Remarks on the Article by R.U. Sexl', European Journal of Science Education 3, 291-301.Google Scholar
  11. Everett, J.D.: 1900, Elementary Textbook of Physics, Blackie & Son, London.Google Scholar
  12. Fenn, J.B.: 1982, Engines, Energy, and Entropy. A Thermodynamics Primer, W.H. Freeman, San Francisco.Google Scholar
  13. Gislason, E.A. & Craig, N.C.: 1987, 'General Definitions of Work and Heat in Thermodynamic Processes', Journal of Chemical Education 64, 660-668.Google Scholar
  14. Huygens, C.: 1693, Oeuvres Complètes 18, 554.Google Scholar
  15. Lawson, R.A. & McDermott, L.C.: 1987, 'Student Understanding of the Work-Energy and Impulse-Momentum Theorems', American Journal of Physics 55, 811-817.Google Scholar
  16. McDermott, L.C.: 1984, 'An Overview of Research on Conceptual Understanding in Mechanics', Physics Today 22-32.Google Scholar
  17. Moore, W.J.: 1972, Physical Chemistry — 5th Edition, Longman, London.Google Scholar
  18. Reif, F.: 1983, 'How Can Chemists Teach Problem Solving?', Journal of Chemical Education 60, 948-953.Google Scholar
  19. Sexl, R.U.: 1981, 'Some Observations Concerning the Teaching of the Energy Concept', European Journal of Science Education 3, 285-289.Google Scholar
  20. Smeaton, J.: 1759, 'An Experimental Enquiry Concerning the Natural Powers of Water and Wind to Turn Mills, and Other Machines, Depending on a Circular Motion', Philosophical Transactions 51, 100-138.Google Scholar
  21. Smeaton, J.: 1776, 'An Experimental Examination of the Quantity and Proportion of Mechanic Power Necessary to Be Employed in Giving Different Degrees of Velocity to Heavy Bodies from a State of Rest', Philosophical Transactions 66, 450-475.Google Scholar
  22. Smith, C.: 1978, 'A New Chart for British Natural Philosophy: The Development of Energy Physics in the Nineteenth Century', History of Science 16, 231-279.Google Scholar
  23. Trumper, R.: 1991, 'Being Constructive: An Alternative Approach to the Teaching of the Energy Concept — Part Two', International Journal of Science Education 13, 1-10.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kevin C De Berg
    • 1
  1. 1.Avondale CollegeCooranbongAustralia

Personalised recommendations